OPINION: What is ARN thinking?
Is there a pot of gold at rainbow’s end for Australian Radio Network?
ARN’s puzzling decision to axe its #1 breakfast show at Gold 104.3 Melbourne this week left many in radio scratching their head in search of any rational reasoning behind the decision.
Survey seven delivered in spades for the Melbourne Pure Gold station. It drew a cume of 997,000 and a double-digit score of 11.1% of people 10+. Not to be sneezed at. Across all GfK surveys in 2017, Gold 104.3 has averaged about 8.9% to smoothfm’s 9.7%.
The strong results, it should be pointed out, also follow the recent departure of ARN’s Melbourne-based content director, Sam Thompson. She was a much-loved and highly respected industry executive.
Talking to people in the radio business, it’s clear that ARN is, in recent times at least, best known for two things; hiring Kyle & Jackie O and, in very close second, its questionable “parting ways” with talent at unusual intervals and under dubious circumstances.
The dearly departed reads like a gender-imbalanced who’s who of radio. Grubby & Deedee, Brigitte Duclos, Chrissie Swan, Jane Hall, Matt & Meshel, Hughesy & Kate, Thinkergirls, Robyn Bailey and now, Jo & Lehmo, officially got the boot this week. The pair just scored their highest ratings in over a decade – 8.4% put them at #1 with an average 7.2% of people 10+ between survey one and survey seven this year.
Champagne was flowing one week and tears the next. Radio can be a brutal business. The reaction on social media from listeners and the talent, says plenty as to the shockwaves that followed the announcement.
Lehmo’s departure, first scooped by Radio Today two weeks ago, is undeniably the head-turning story of the month, somewhat reminiscent of 2Day FM losing Kyle and Jackie O. Although, admittedly, Jo & Lehmo’s departure won’t have anywhere near the same impact.
It begs the question: Why would a top-rated station let its top-rated talent walk out the studio door, and not look back? It just makes no sense. Or did the talent, and their management, simply want too much money?
The station won’t completely collapse in ratings post-Jo and Lehmo. However, you would think breakfast and Gold could lose a few points, potentially placing it back in the pack, behind KIIS, Triple M and Nova with a return to single digits.
Unless, of course, there is some method to the madness. A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, if you will. And if this is indeed the case, what’s the strategy in play? How will this round of high-stakes chess play out?
As group content director Duncan Campbell told Radio Today just last week, “Any decisions [ARN] make, we make for specific reasons with a medium to long-term strategic view.”
One likely possibility is the move from a ‘talent-driven’ station to that of a ‘more music’ format, putting Gold 104.3 firmly in a two horse race with NOVA Entertainment’s equally popular smoothfm. The two radio stations have been battling a firm tug of war in the GfK ratings all year.
Maybe ARN plans to allocate the money it saves on talent and dish it out on marketing instead. Or perhaps ARN is just looking to cut further costs following last year’s financial results. Investment in talent and digital assets increased ARN’s costs by $4.5m for the six months ending June 30 2017. In the same period, revenue generated by ARN was down 6%.
One real probability gaining steam throughout media circles is that Sydney’s Jonesy & Amanda will pipe into Melbourne with some locally skewed content. Just the thought of this may send shivers down your spine – it breaks the golden rule of breakfast radio – staying local. The networks have very successfully networked drive shows but it remains to be seen if breakfast can cross state lines. Triple M tried and failed with Richard Stubbs in 90’s.
Overnight Campbell has quashed any such speculations, tellings the Sydney Morning Herald, “No discussions have taken place regarding the syndication of Jonesy and Amanda into Melbourne.”
But if it were to happen, it would be interesting to hear how ARN tackle the challenge of localism, especially in a football-mad town like Melbourne.
You may recall that Jonesy & Amanda recently inked a new deal with ARN. Some sources tell Radio Today the pair received an increase in salary, offering more weight to the idea that Melbourne may get it’s cornflakes and laughs delivered from Sydney. At the very least, they may be looking to amortise Jonesy & Amanda across two metro markets.
With the recent PR push around Jonesy’s new book and Amanda’s national profile from her TV commitments, it’s a real option for ARN. How would it go?
Bypassing the apparent obstacle of local content in breakfast, the next item on the agenda would be to address the branding of WSFM 101.7 Sydney and Gold 104.3 Melbourne, to unify the stations for any planned networking.
Is it possible the Sydney station – with deep heritage roots in Western Sydney – will finally get a rebranding to become Gold 101.7 Sydney? ARN did renew the domain name Gold1017.com.au in July this year. But, at this point, who really knows?
If we’ve learned anything this week, it’s that nothing is off of the table – even when you are #1 at breakfast.